Women to Watch: Elise
ELISE BERNHARDT, FLEUR ELISE BKLN.
For over three decades, Elise Bernhardt worked in the fields of the cultural non-profit world. As founder of Dancing in the Streets, she produced site-specific works around NYC, the US and internationally working with artists including Merce Cunningham, Elizabeth Streb, Lucinda Childs, Bill T. Jones, Eiko and Koma, and hundreds of others. As a trailblazer in the genre of site-specific performance, Bernhardt collaborated with presenters across the country - from the Walker Art Center, to Chicago’s Columbia College to London Dance Umbrella, to the L.A. Music Center.
Bernhardt became Executive Director of The Kitchen at the end of the ’90’s when the institution was close to the brink. Working with a team of curators, she infused the place with new life, instilling confidence in donors and inviting the estranged neighborhood into the halls of experimentation. Among the many new ideas tested there, highlights include the Kitchen House Blend (a unique music ensemble that commissioned and performed new works each season), the first Art & Technology Network of cultural institutions and university research centers, the Kitchen Summer Institute for College and Graduate students, and numerous cross-disciplinary residencies by such luminaries as Shirin Neshat, Ben Katchor, and Carl Hancock Rux. Bernhardt was instrumental in the sale of the air rights of The Kitchen, which paid off the mortgage and left The Kitchen with a secure financial future.
In 2006, Bernhardt became CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, where she was tasked with reinventing a model that served everyone from playwrights to scholars. Bernhardt worked with the board and staff to streamline the organization’s focus and improve services to individual artists and scholars. Among other new initiatives under her tenure were the New Jewish Culture Network, which continues as a commissioning and presenting consortium of institutions around the U.S. and Canada, and the American Academy in Jerusalem, a cultural residency program for senior level artists and cultural practitioners. Bernhardt oversaw the sunset of the Foundation, which the board declared in 2013.
From 2014-17, Bernhardt served as Executive Director at the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, where she oversaw important initiatives aimed at diversifying the chorus’s student body.
Following a longtime passion, in 2018 she started a Flower Design company Fleur Elise Bkln. Combining her background in dance and choreography and basic principles of Ikebana (Japanese Flower Design) which she learned in Japan and studied in NYC, Bernhardt has evolved a unique design style, briefly described as “whimsical and sophisticated.”
Bernhardt discovered her niche while teaching flower design to beginners and offering a class to the staff of the non-profit dance organization GIBNEY. She quickly realized that the disarming power of flowers made them the perfect medium for a calm, creative, collaborative activity that could be enjoyed by all members of an organization, regardless of their position. Flowers literally “level the playing field.” Bernhardt’s approach is all about working with materials at hand, providing a few, very basic design guidelines, and offering every participant the opportunity to observe each other’s creative prowess. The result is subtle and remarkable. Participants leave the session with a unique arrangement, a life skill and a new appreciation for their colleagues’ talents.
Learn more about Elise’s venture, including workshop and class information and design services:
Cheers to finding your passion!
P.S. We are always looking for fearless females to feature in our weekly series! If you’re a “Woman to Watch” - or know someone who is - please email me to be considered: email@example.com.